TV: “The largest disease outbreak that we know of ever in the oceans” now hitting West Coast — Potential for “global extinction” — “Affects over 20 species… causing catastrophic mortality” — Expert: One of history’s largest wildlife die-offs… signal in ecosystem that something’s not right (VIDEO)
Published: June 16th, 2014 at 2:17 pm ET
Macleans, June 13, 2014: From Alaska to Mexico—and all along the B.C. coast—an iconic animal is disappearing. For reasons that remain baffling to scientists, starfish are dying by the millions, in the grips of a mysterious wasting disease that dissolves their bodies into goo. “I’d do beach walks along a 50-m stretch of shoreline, and count 500 or 1,000 of them,” says Chris Harley, a marine ecologist at the University of British Columbia who’s been monitoring sea stars (as scientists call them) for nearly two decades [...] Revisiting one of these sites recently, he found a single sea star. […] “This is one of the largest wildlife die-offs that we know of,” [Seattle Aquarium veterinarian Lesanna Lahner] says. “It’s a signal in the ecosystem that something’s not right.”
Eugene Weekly, June 12, 2014: “The way the rate has accelerated, I don’t think most sea stars along the Oregon coast are long for this world,” says Bruce Menge, a marine ecologist with Oregon State University.
KUOW News, June 16, 2014: “It’s a lot worse than it was last week,” says [Drew] Harvell, a marine epidemiologist at Cornell University. [...] “It’s the largest mortality event for marine diseases we’ve seen,” Harvell said. “It affects over twenty species on our coast and it’s been causing catastrophic mortality.” [...] From what Harvell and her team see as they survey beaches [of Washington's San Juan archipelago], there’s not much time for these starfish [...] “My expectation is that within the next month all of the stars will die.” The team checked this rocky patch last week and found 10 percent of the stars showed signs of the wasting syndrome. Today they estimate that number has increased to more than 40 percent. [...] Harvell said, “This area has some of the highest biodiversity of sea stars in the world. We’re not just losing one keystone species, we’re losing a whole guild of stars.” And the stars here are what’s called an endemic species, meaning they only live on this shoreline and nowhere else on the planet, she explained. If sea stars are wiped out along these shores, there’s a potential for not just local, but global extinction.
EarthFix (Oregon Public Broadcasting, KCTS9, KUOW), June 15, 2014 — Drew Harvell, Cornell University: “This is the largest disease outbreak that we know of ever in the oceans. [...] I’m expecting that in the next two weeks we will lose virtually all the stars at this site [in Washington] [...] To lose all of them at once, we don’t even know what’s going to happen.”
Watch the EarthFix video here